Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Pam Muñoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising

Book review by Anita Lock

Ages 8 and up

A Girl Who Finds Hope in Hopelessness

Do not be afraid to start over! These words of Abuelita, which she uses in the attempt to impress the importance of trying again upon her granddaughter, Esperanza, are futile.

It is the eve of Esperanza’s thirteenth birthday, and while Abuelita teaches her crocheting, Esperanza is anxiously awaiting Papa’s return, which is long overdue.

Review - Esperanza Rising

Up to this point, Esperanza Ortega, the only daughter of wealthy landowners, has led a carefree life and knows nothing more than happiness and joy. However, she is unaware that her fairytale life is about to shatter and that Abuelita’s message will take on greater meaning in the near future.

The year is 1930 in Aguacsalientes, Mexico. Alfonso and Miguel, ranch workers on El Rancho de las Rosas, return later that evening not only with Papa’s body, but also with the horrendous news that he had been ambushed and killed by bandits.

Although we commiserate with Esperanza in her immense grief, we are caught unaware when Esperanza’s sadness is curtly overshadowed, a few days after the funeral, by her intense loathing toward her sinister uncles (Papa’s step-brothers), whose powerful influence over the town leads her to believe that they are responsible for Papa’s demise.

In the process of settling Papa’s estate, they also propose a few offers to Mama:  one, the purchase of the estate for a ridiculously low amount, while the other, Mama’s hand in marriage. Anticipating that she would refuse both offers, the uncles implore her to seriously reconsider, or something ominous will befall her and her household.

True to their words, the household is awakened by an all-consuming fire, and except for Abuelita, who injures her ankle, the rest escape unscathed.

Review continues.

front/back cover spread, Esperanza Rising

Now with the ranch in ruins, new living arrangements are made.

Abuelita relocates to a convent, where her sisters reside. She asks for their help duplicating the visas that were lost in the fire, and having them sent to Mama and Esperanza.

Abuelita promises to rejoin them once she recovers.

Alfonso, in the meantime, has been in contact with his brother, who has arranged work and a place in their cabin in California for Alfonso, his family, and Mama and Esperanza.

Realizing that this arrangement is the best solution, Mama feigns acceptance to the marriage proposal, and noticing that she has successfully convinced the second uncle of her intentions, she makes one urgent request: that he would provide her with a wagon so she can visit Abuelita.

Unbeknownst to him, Esperanza, Mama, and the others use it, instead, to escape to California.

Review - Esperanza Rising

Although living conditions at the work camp and cabin are inadequate and tight, Mama gracefully resigns herself to her new life as a field worker, while Esperanza grudgingly succumbs to household chores and babysitting.

However, it is not until a dust storm leaves Mama sick with Valley Fever that Esperanza has no choice but to work to pay for Mama’s hospital expenses. Fortunately, she has made enough money to set some aside to help Abuelita come to California: her secret stash.

Mama returns to the camp, but is still recuperating

Mama is also suffering from depression since she misses her Mama, Abuelita. Esperanza needs Abuelita to be by Mama’s side, but she cannot fathom how to make that happen when mass deportation to Mexico occurs because of strikers fighting for better working conditions and pay.

Now with plentiful job openings, a new wave of immigrants replaces the deported workers. As a result, labor is even cheaper, and Miguel, who has worked diligently to get a better-paying position, exchanges that for ditch digging.

Esperanza knows Miguel is smart and is agitated that he did not stand up for his rights. They get into an argument, and in a huff Miguel leaves with Esperanza’s secret stash. When she realizes that her money is missing, she not only is angry, but also overwhelmed as to what to do next.

Nonetheless, in a turn of events, Abuelita’s words finally ring true to her. But it will be up to you to find out how and why this unfolds.

Review - Esperanza Rising

Loosely based on the life of the author’s grandmother, Esperanza Ortega, the sole inspiration for Esperanza Rising, this story touches on a horrific yet historic event that is often overlooked in American history: The Mexican Repatriation between 1929 and 1939, which was the largest involuntary migration in the United States – greater than the Native American removals of the nineteenth century and the Japanese-American relocations during WWII.

I am grateful to awarding-winning author Pam Muñoz Ryan for creating a story designed for young readers in the hope of exposing the truth of that time period.

More Jane Addams Award children's book award winners.

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